Monday, October 22, 2007

Competition in Schools

If you are opposed to vouchers; one of the best ways to sway the popular vote to your side is simply to inject the word "competition" into the conversation as many times as possible. This is the technique used in the Voucher Debate on Comcast on Demand.

I couldn't find a link to the program. I watched it at a house that had Comcast On Demand, but didn't have a note pad handy. I suspect it was the 9/27/2007 Hinckley Forum Debate between Carol Spackman and Richard Eyre. I could be wrong.

Praising competition as the foundation of the free market makes one seem open minded and balanced, while making the free market seemed closed minded, harsh and distant. As I argued in my last post this is nothing more than a chimera.

Education is primarily a nurturing activity. It is not a competitive activity. Most people have bad memories of grade competition. They want a system of education where their children learn, and not one where they claw at each other in some sort of graded arena for the teacher's attention.

If ten kids entered a math class based entirely on competition. You are likely to end up with two pretentious twits who are okay at math but whose egos are tied around the subject in a distorted way. The other eight would spend their lives thinking that they were "stupid at math."

Parents do not want this for their kids. They want their children in nurturing environments where the students learn.

Carol Spackman clearly won the debate because she spouted the word competition until the single word rang above all other arguments. She even pulled a theatrical stunt where she babbled about competition until her eyes rolled back. I am sure that this technique polled well.

If you are for vouchers, you have to emphasize that freedom, not competition, is the foundation of the free market. The reason that private education is able to do more with less is that, when a family has the freedom to choose their school, they are in a position to create a deeper more cooperative relation with the school. When there is freedom of choice, people are able to create more substantive forms of cooperation than one where the child's education is left to the dictates of a bureaucracy.

Competition and cooperation are complementary elements of life. What parents and students want are schools that cooperate with the family in achieving a quality education for the child. The voucher system does this by creating an structure where schools compete for students. These schools compete by showing who can be the most cooperative with the parent and child.

Carol Spackman spoke proudly of all the competitions that students have to endure in public schools. The competitions, however, are between the students. The NEA would not abide by competitions between the teachers.

The public schools structure is one that nurtures the teachers, but throws the students in a competitive environment where they most compete for the school's resources or diminish.

The private school system is one where the schools compete for students. It means the competition takes place among the schools. This competition is one where mediocre schools fail. That is, schools which aren't able to create an environment where their students excel fall to the wayside. As the free market is able to absorbed failed teachers in other occupations, this is more acceptable to the public school system which forces the failure onto the students.

Teaching Companies

My favorite subject is teaching companies.

The voucher and charter systems create competition among schools. The teaching company structure would go one level deeper and create direct competition between classrooms. There would be a competition among companies about who could teach subject XXX best.

I bring up teaching companies as they show an interesting dynamic about how things could work in a fully open education structure. A teaching company cooperates with the school to provide quality courses to the students. They cooperate with the students in the learning process. There would be a competition between the teaching companies on how well they cooperate with the students and school. A teaching company that is not able to adapt its course to a given school is likely to lose that contract. A teaching company that is not able cooperate with the students in the learning process is apt to raise the ire of students, and put the teaching contract in question.

Lets say you have a successful teaching company in a school that is failing, the structure would allow the successful of the school to quickly migrate to a new market when the school goes under.

Cooperation and competition are complementary ideas. An open education market would creates a structure where the competition exists among the providers, and it creates a structure that is most nurturing for the students. The closed system of the public schools creates a structure that is nurturing for the teachers, but leaves the students in a base competition for the school's resources. A few students excel in this environment. Most languish. We can judge the high fail rate of the public schools by the large number of people who come out of the schools with a less than adequate education and languish in dysfunctional lives.


Reach Upward said...

Thanks for this analysis. I suspect that most public school teachers would be frightened to death of the type of competition you suggest in teaching companies. The pressure to perform at a level that would make students want to come to your class and make parents satisfied with the educational outcome would be intense. Some current public school teachers would welcome such a challenge, but I'll bet most would not.

y-intercept said...

I think the really good high school teachers would love it as ownership would add an extra dimension to the job. The teachers who are way into their subject would love the idea, as owning a company would add greater legitimacy for pursuing their passions.

The only group that would hate it are those who went into education looking for a comfortable government job.

Truth be told, I actually think the world of teachers. I jab at a stereotype of a mediocre public school teacher simply because I think the public school structure is preventing these great people from achieving their full potential.